Monday, August 08, 2011

Hilarious unsold pilots

You think some of today’s shows are strange? Friend of the blog and writer extraordinaire, Lee Goldberg once wrote a book listing unsold TV pilots. These are just from 1955-1990 and are not complete (two of our misfires somehow managed to fly under the radar). But some of these are priceless.  These are actual projects.  Writers pitched them with a straight face and sold them.  Scripts were commissioned and then networks said, "Sure, we'll shell out millions of dollar to make these".   Can you imagine what didn't get picked up?   Anyway, with the new development season about to begin, let's go back and relive past gems. 
 
DANGER TEAM ABC-1990 – Kathleen Beller plays a bookkeeper-turned-private eye who solves crimes with the help of three animated clay figures. (Whatever happened to Kathleen Beller (pictured above)? She was soooo hot.)

GOOD AGAINST EVIL ABC-1977 -- Dack Rambo is a writer who happens to fall in love with Satan’s girlfriend.  (Don't you hate it when that happens?)

HIGH RISK ABC-1976 -- Six former circus performers team up to solve crimes. (A better title might have been JUSTICE DU SOLEIL.  Notice how many of these delightful dramas were developed by ABC?)

JUDGE DEE ABC-1974 -- Khigh Dhiegh is a roving judge in seventh century China, deciding right and wrong and solving crimes. (We had an idea for a show but it was set in the eighth century and no one wants that era.)

MADAME SIN ABC-1972 – Maybe my favorite of all of them. Bette Davis as an all-powerful dragon lady who kidnaps a former C.I.A. agent (Robert Wagner), brainwashes him with a special ray gun, and enlists him in her high-tech global intelligence agency that operates out of her Scottish castle. (Again, I'm not making these up. I couldn't.)

McCLONE NBC-1988 – Master thespian, Howie Long is pursued by evil clones.

MOMMA THE DETECTIVE CBS-1981 – Esther Rolle (from GOOD TIMES) as a maid who solves crimes.


NICK KNIGHT CBS-1989 – I bet we see a new version of this in like five minutes. Rick Springfield is a crimefighting vampire on the San Francisco police force.


HURRICANE ISLAND & STRANDED – two of the many “people are shipwrecked on a remote island” pilots. But none of them had the hatch.

ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT CBS-1980 -- A New York photographer who shares his apartment with a baby elephant.

GREAT DAY ABC-1977 -- As described: “This pilot was supposed to illustrate how fun life is as a skid row bum in New York’s bowery.” Featured in the cast: Billy Barty and Spo-De-Odee.

A LITTLE BIT STRANGE NBC-1989 – A widower raising a bizarre family. He and his son are warlocks, his daughter is a witch, his mother-in-law is psychic, his brother a soul-singing bat (yes, a bat), and his nephew is made of mud. A “normal” girl marries into this family.

MARS: BASE ONE CBS-1988 -- A family adjusting to life on Mars, where they live next door to a Soviet technician and his American-stripper wife. (Note: the 1988 WGA strike forced cancellation of this project. I think part of the problem was that they wanted to shoot on location.)

MIXED NUTS ABC-1977 – (not to be confused with MIXED NUTS -- one of the worst movies of all time) The lives and hilarious misadventures of the doctors and psychiatric patients of a mental institution.

MR. AND MRS. DRACULA ABC-1980, 1981 -- The Dracula family moves to a New York apartment. In the second version they live in the South Bronx. Okay, now that makes sense.


SGT. T.K. YU NBC-1979 – Korean stand-up comic Johnny Yune is a Korean LAPD detective/stand-up comic. (This pilot was in competition with one of ours, about a guy-girl comedy team. And neither got on the schedule. Instead, NBC picked up PINK LADY AND JEFF, a comedy-variety show starring a stand-up comic and Japanese girl group who couldn’t speak English.  Sometimes the most absurd pilot gets on the air.)

Tomorrow: More pilots include one with Alan Alda raising an invisible baby and Sonny Bono fighting crime.  You're gonna wanna be here!

49 comments:

Dave Mackey said...

I have to say the only two of these I remember are "Ethel" and "Yu". I thought Johnny Yune had promise.

ropo said...

"Forever Knight" wasn't unsold... it ran for three years!

Sebastian said...

About Nick Knight:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forever_Knight

"Forever Knight was a Canadian television series about Nick Knight, an 800-year-old vampire working as a police detective in modern day Toronto (...) The series premiered on May 5, 1992 and concluded with the third season finale on May 17, 1996."

and while I'm at it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonlight_(TV_series)

"Moonlight is an American paranormal romance television drama (...) The series follows private investigator Mick St. John (Alex O'Loughlin), who was turned into a vampire by his bride Coraline (Shannyn Sossamon). Original run September 28, 2007 – May 16, 2008"

Lothar said...

> (Whatever happened to Kathleen Beller (pictured above)? She was soooo hot.)

She gave birth to Sarah Silverman and is hiding from StarTrek-Voyager fans since her daughter's appearance in that series.

DJ said...

Kathleen Beller married Thomas Dolby ("She Blinded Me With Science") in 1988. They have three children.

Tom Quigley said...

ETHEL IS AN ELEPHANT CBS-1980 -- A New York photographer who shares his apartment with a baby elephant.

No doubt based on a comment Fred Mertz once made about his wife...

wv: perim -- what you call it when you celebrate a Jewish holyday by drinking a particular brand of sparkling French mineral warter

MikeBo said...

My Gawd! How did we survive as a society without those cultural icons? Somehow I was never aware of Kathleen Beller until now. But, she was hot. I miss "Swamp Thing."

Melissa said...

When Forever Knight came out I kept thinking I'd already scene this but with Rick Springfield in the lead and no one temembered the Rick version. I'm happy I'm not crazy.

Sean D. said...

High Risk sounds familiar. Might have caught the burn-off of the pilot as a Movie of the Week.

Actually remember Mr. & Mrs. Dracula. Want to say I saw the 1980 version while at a friend's halloween party.

Kerri said...

Rick Springfield shot the pilot. I saw it. Then it was retooled and became Forever Knight.

ropo said...

Ah, I see I was mistaken... but I knew I'd seen the Rick Springfield version! Looks like "Nick Knight" was a TV movie and the series "Forever Knight" started off with a remake of the movie.

Anonymous said...

The Judge Dee books were pretty well known.

Scott said...

Danger Team sounds a little like Wonderfalls, created by Bryan Fuller, which is one of my favorite television shows of all time. It is definitely worth checking out.

Gilbert Duck said...

Kathleen Beller - she went back to her job as a bookkeeper but soon after, with the help of George Lucas, gave birth to 3 animated clay figures, one of which is Justin Beiber.

Johnny Walker said...

There's no escaping Madam Sin...

Madame Sin trailer on YouTube

Johnny Walker said...

I'm confused, Ken. You say, "Hilarious unsold pilots" but then you say that these things were actually sold. Do you mean the ideas were sold and pilots were made...but they weren't picked up for a series? :-/

Mac said...

These are fantastic, but "Michael Knight fights crime with aid of a highly-intelligent talking car" wouldn't be out of place in there.

I'm fascinated by ETHEL THE ELEPHANT, in as much as, how many potential storylines were in it?
I'm guessing Ethel had no dialogue (although Knight's car did, so who knows?)
Apart from sucking water out of the toilet bowl and taking a dump on the floor, it's tough to see how many adventures Ethel could have got up to.

Megazver said...

Man, I wish Judge Dee got made.

Jen said...

Mr. and Mrs. Dracula reminds me of The Charmings.

Kris said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathleen_Beller

RCP said...

With circus performers, Esther Rolle, and Rick Springfield combing our mean streets, we can all sleep safe at night.

D T Nelson said...

I would have liked to have seen "Good Versus Evil," to see how this fictional show compared to my real-life experience.

Phillip B said...

I was a fan of Trio - the cable network NBC folded - which ran a good number of failed pilots and quickly cancelled series.

Still think there is a market for a sort of "Failed Sitcom Showcase" - with a host adding commentary to a show worth seeing for some earthly reason.

Do bootleg copies of these pilots make the rounds in the industry?

Tony Collett said...

One that I remember from the book was "Where's Everett?" from 1970, starring Alan Alda as a father who discovers an invisible baby on his doorstep.
What might have been if it had been picked up and stayed on the air long enough to keep Alda from M*A*S*H.

Gnasche said...

Mixed Nuts had a hilarious moment, though, when we see Steve Martin's reaction as the power comes back on.

smchaef said...

Nick Knight became Forever Knight and ran for 3 seasons with someone other than Rick Springfield in the Lead Role

Mike Schryver said...

Of these, I've seen Madame Sin and Good against Evil. Madame Sin is very strange - I have a hard time imagining how a series would have played out.

Ken, it's interesting to hear that you had a pilot up against Pink Lady and Jeff. I'm sorry it didn't get picked up, but PL&J is one of the most fascinating (and worst) TV shows ever made. We connoisseurs of awful TV thank you for your sacrifice.

Tom Wolper said...

Judge Dee was the lead character in a series of pretty good mysteries written by Robert Van Hulik and based on a judge from contemporary chronicles. He was played by Khigh Dhiegh who played Wo Fat in legacy Hawaii Five-O. The pilot was a made-for-TV movie and here is a clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdRVLwb-qig

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I saw "A Little Bit Strange," I guess as a summer burnoff. The only thing I remember is that the warlock kid was afraid to go out in the rain because he'd seen "The Wizard of Oz" and thought he'd melt. Ho-ho-ho.

jbryant said...

Wow, had no idea Kathleen Beller married Thomas Dolby. Guess she blinded him with anatomy.

Matt Tauber said...

Of all these, I really would watch "Momma the Detective". I know I'm not alone. Maybe with Ja'net Dubois as her crime-fighting sidekick?

Lee Goldberg said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ken!

You can see clips of some of these pilots on YouTube in excerpts from the two specials that I produced based on my book...

The ABC special THE BEST TV SHOWS THAT NEVER WERE...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tBCAL-pPoc

And the CBS special THE GREATEST SHOWS YOU NEVER SAW...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUITcq-QeoQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVzIojqZ5-o

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bghfYi10HzE

Paul Duca said...

Rolle's MOMMA THE DETECTIVE ran as a late-night movie under the title SEE CHINA AND DIE.

Mac...good writing can make the most unusual situations funny. I'm sure Ken could have made Ethel the Elephant's toilet drinking and dump on the floor HILARIOUS!

Anonymous said...

MOMMA THE DETECTIVE was one of Larry Cohen's pilots.

Chris said...

Here's one for Friday: two guys who wrote a really refreshing episode for Entourage last week were credited as "staff writers" on imdb for the past couple seasons. It was their first and last "Written By" credit, does this mean they contributed to this episode only or what does that Staff writer credit mean?

Derryl Murphy said...

If Judge Dee had been successful, they would have had a spinoff with a judge wandering the holy land in Old Testament times. Judge Jew Dee.

Frank said...

I bet Ethel worked for peanuts.

Dzof said...

Just last year, there was a Detective Dee film, based on on the same Di Renjie as the Judge Dee books: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1123373/

And of course, if you're going old school, you can't neglect Cadfael: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTDXiZ534-Y

Jim said...

Mixed Nuts may have been an absolute stinker of a film, but the French original from which it originated, Pere Noel est une ordure is the French equivalent of Airplane or Monty Python, something that most French people can and do quote from. Irritatingly so sometimes. If you can cope without a happy ending then don't miss it.

Michael said...

This is not quite apropos, but for some reason it seems to me that this fits. In Joe Adamson's biography of Tex Avery, he has a transcript of an interview with Avery and Michael Maltese, who was Chuck Jones's longtime chief writer. Maltese was at Hanna-Barbera and a network executive came in and said he had an idea for a cartoon series: a crime-fighting superhero whale named Moby Dick. What? Yes, he'd be a whale, hear of a crime, and go fight it. Maltese said he looked at Barbera and said, "Get him offa me." But Hanna-Barbera gave it to someone else, and they did it.

mrswing said...

Judge Dee is a famous Chinese character (sort of a Sherlock Holmes with three martial artists taking the place of Watson). Only last year Tsui Hark made a big budget movie about him starring Andy Lau. And there are a few dozen quite popular novels written (in English) by Dutch diplomat Robert Van Gulik which very probably were the basis for this pilot. So not really that crazy a concept...

The Store Manager said...

I was actually going to mention Moonlight, which I thought was a pretty good series let down by some shockingly bad acting at times. And as for A Little Bit Strange - you think someone had been watching many episodes of The Addams Family and The Munsters before they hit on this great idea?

Rinaldo said...

I too saw the "A Little Bit Strange" pilot. It was shown in an early-Sunday-primetime slot as a "special," and I remember seeing its star Michael Warren (of "Hill Street Blues" fame) on a talk show to promote it -- so perhaps at that point (April 1989) they were still hoping to get picked up for series. Despite my regard for Mr. Warren, it was truly dreadful.

crackblind said...

Ken, have you seen The Betsy? Beller's pool scene in there carried me through many a cable TV night of my adolescence. Thanks for the fond memory.

If you want an example, Google image her, misspelling her last name as Bellar. Yes, sometimes, I still am an adolescent.

Kevin Rubio said...

I worked on that pilot "Nick Knight". It eventually became a first run syndicated series.

miles_underground said...

I have Good vs Evil on dvd. A lot of these old, unsold pilots turn up from time to time in the dollar store market, and I bought this one because it had Kim Catrall in it and also because I didn't believe "Dack Rambo" was a real name. I still don't, as a matter of fact.

Others I have picked up include "The Black Brigade" (Richard Pryor), "Concrete Cowboys" (Tom Selleck and Jerry Reed) and "On a Dark Street" (William Shatner and the Captain from CHiPs). They're all terrible.

indium said...

that woman like a chinese, fat

Disati said...

I must join in with those contesting the inclusion of "Judge Dee" here. I have a recording of this film, and it is genuinely very good.

One of its most interesting features is that, at a time when "yellow face" casting was still common in Hollywood, it has an all-Asian cast. Well, one has to qualify that by noting that Khigh Dheigh, who played the title role, was actually of Egyptian/Sudanese ancestory--but the people in Hollywood thought he was Asian, and he did not correct them so long as the mistake brought him roles. He played nothing but Chinese characters, even when--as in SECONDS--there was no particular reason for the character to be Chinese.

Anonymous said...

HI, sorry to correct you, but the "Nick Knight" Tv series actually happen, The Tv series "Forever Knight" is about a Vampire called Nick Knight, who is a homicide detective in Toronto.
And they made 70 episodes.
Sorry about my english, I'm not from USA